Contributed by
"William E. Emba"
Rex
Stout and his seventy some Nero Wolfe novels are generally regarded as
amongst the greatest mystery novels ever written. They read as fresh today
as when the series started in 1934, and they can pretty much be read in any
order.
The plot of AND BE A VILLAIN centers around a cyanide poisoning that had
happened during a live radio talkshow broadcast, a few days before the
novel opens. The victim was a race track bookie. Also present at the
crime scene was a mathematician, to provide expert commentary on
probability, and some respectability for the show to even dare have a
bookie on air. (But to the reader, the mathematician is mostly to provide
comic relief.)
When Nero Wolfe interviews the mathematician, the latter launches
into an uninterruptible spiel about how he always wanted to apply
probability theory to detective work, and talks math for a bit,
going so far as to write out the "second approximation to the
normal distribution", which Archie Goodwin, the novel's narrator,
reproduces. Apparently Archie doesn't know what a square root symbol
is, since what should be a sqrt(2.pi.D) comes out as V.2.pi.D. (It
appears Stout did his homework, so either his printer got it wrong,
or Stout engaged in an inside joke for mathematicians only.)
